“Mahinda Rajapaksa Will Get Over 70% Of The Votes”
SLFP General Secretary and Agriculture Development and Agrarian Services Minister Maithripala Sirisena says President Mahinda Rajapaksa would record a ‘great victory’ at the January 26 presidential election given the pledges fulfilled by him including the defeat of terrorism within a period spanning less that three years. “Apart from the victory in the humanitarian operation, the government has recorded a victory in launching massive development programmes,” he said. Sirisena observed that there are more positive aspects to the government than winning the war and that the allegation of corruption and wastage leveled against it were political slogans of the opposition. Excerpts:
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Q: How do you think President Mahinda Rajapaksa would fair at the presidential election?
A: It has been four years since President Mahinda Rajapaksa was first elected to power. This time the election has been called before the end of the first term. We must look at the country’s position at the time the President assumed office. He won the election with a small margin of about 28,000 votes. Among the many problems faced by the country at the time was Prabhakaran and terrorism. However, this time around people can see and feel a difference after the defeat of terrorism. People have had bad experiences with regard to unfulfilled election promises. But Mahinda Rajapaksa goes before the people at the elections as a leader who has fulfilled promises.
First, he has defeated terrorism and secondly, he has launched a massive development programme after the tenure of President J.R. Jayewardene. Most presidents after JR had not been able to carry out massive development programmes mainly because of the terrorism problem. The government has now given strength to many development programmes including some that have been under discussion for years. The Norochcholai and Upper Kotmale power plants, Hambantota port and the Moragahakanda project are a few such development programmes. The third area addressed by the President is the development of the north and east after the war. Through all these development projects, the President has also looked at strengthening the local economy giving prominence to the agriculture sector.
Rural infrastructure development projects like electrification and highway construction have also been developed. Four years is a short period and the President spent less than three years for the humanitarian operation in the north and east. President Rajapaksa has become a powerful leader in the country and has also received prominence in the region. I’m sure he would receive over 70% of the votes that would be cast at the election. We have conducted several surveys and they have shown that the President enjoys a vote base of over 70%.
I’m sure that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would record a great victory at the elections.
Q: A large number of people have expressed their support to opposition common candidate General Sarath Fonseka, given his role in the war victory. Do you think that with his entry in to politics, the government could claim sole credit for the war?
A: General Sarath Fonseka has been put forward by the opposition due to the drawback experienced by them following the government’s war victory. The opposition wanted to prevent the government from achieving the war victory and even afterwards did not want the credit to go to the government. The main opposition UNP worked with certain foreign forces to prevent the government from achieving the war victory. Some foreign forces were not supportive of the government’s move to defeat the terrorists and wanted the operation aborted. Although they wanted it stopped, the President ignored these requests.
Misguided by information fed to them by the LTTE some members of the international community, foreign aid agencies and NGOs wanted the war stopped. They were under the impression that the Sinhalese were killing the Tamils. However, some countries that understood the importance of defeating terrorism and safeguarding the country’s integrity supported the government. People in some countries like Canada, Germany, England, Australia still believe in an Eelam. We have seen many strategies that have been used to capture countries and invasions and trade have been used in the past. Currently the strategy that is being used is intelligence. The foreign intelligence units want President Rajapaksa to be defeated.
They are now working towards it with the UNP and the JVP. Fonseka has become a victim in this campaign. People have understood this and they will understand this more in future. Meanwhile some comments made by General Fonseka recently have also shown where his loyalties lie – whether it is with the friendly forces or not.
Q: Do you think President Rajapaksa’s support base has increased since the last presidential election in 2005?
A: President Rajapaksa’s image has been strengthened since the last presidential election on November 17, 2005. He has made himself a name not only in the country, but also in the international arena. President Rajapaksa has become a powerful leader in the country and has also received prominence in the region. I’m sure he would receive over 70% of the votes that would be cast at the election. We have conducted several surveys and they have shown that the President enjoys a vote base of over 70%.
Q: There is a common perception that apart from the war victory, the President does not have any other positive aspects to his administration. How do you think such a perception has come about against the President within a relatively short period as four years?
A: It is a statement made by the opposition. Apart from the victory in the humanitarian operation, the government has recorded a victory in launching massive development programmes. Apart from the projects I mentioned earlier, the government has also launched development programmes in the north and east under Uthuru Wasanthaya and Nagenahira Udanaya. Over 140,000 acres of paddy land in the north have been cultivated. The government has also cultivated paddy lands that were not cultivated in the Western Province.
People know about the development programmes launched by the government. They know how much money has been allocated to each grama seva division. People can witness clear development programmes taking place in the country. Apart from the massive development programmes, there are also small and medium scale development projects that have also been launched by the government.
One such example is the project to rehabilitate old irrigation systems in the country with the help of the World Bank. The government has received Rs. 7,000 million as aid for the project. The Central Bank has also stated that the country’s economy is growing between 5-6%. Therefore, it is clear that there are more positive aspects to the government than only winning the war.
Q: There have been many allegations of corruption and wastage of funds leveled against President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his administration. How does the government plan to respond to these allegations?
A: There are various allegations being spoken of. Even Wijedasa Rajapaksa’s COPE report tried to show that most corruption charges were against the current administration. However, it is not so, the instances recorded in the report were ones that had taken place between the period of 2002-2003. Yet, there are ways to address this issue, if it persists as alleged by certain parties. There are institutions that have been appointed in line with the constitution to take action against these allegations. There is a Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption and the judicial system to take action. But the people leveling allegations need to specifically mention these cases for action to be taken.
So far they have not made any specific allegation apart from saying members of the Rajapaksa family have purchased land, hotels, hospitals, etc. Corruption is being used as a political slogan now. I have always taken action against any corruption or wastage in institutions under my purview. Our government does not condone corruption and wastage. If specific cases have been brought forward and the government has not taken action against it, then the government has done wrong.
Q: There have been allegations and counter allegations being exchanged between the Rajapaksas and General Fonseka on various issues. Do you think it is beneficial to the President’s campaign?
A: During election time with democracy in practice it is difficult to stop it. But if it does continue to happen it is not good. I feel that it was General Fonseka who first started this situation. He is the one who started by bringing in names and then the other party started to respond. It is normal for any one to respond to an allegation leveled against him. Similar situations can be witnessed during other elections as well. If such a situation has arisen now, it is General Fonseka’s fault for it is he who started it.
Q: The President has been reported as saying that he had made mistakes in making several key appointments to key posts in his administration. Is the President regretting the prominence given initially to General Fonseka during the war against the LTTE?
A: I have not read about this statement and have no idea about it. Therefore, I cannot speak about something I don’t know.
Q: How will the government ensure the 200,000 plus IDPs will vote?
A: The Elections Commissioner with the help of members of the three forces would make the necessary arrangements for the people in the north to cast their votes at the election. There were arrangements made for people in the north to cast their votes during previous elections. One option was to set up poling booths in the hometowns of the displaced people and the other was to set up booths in the IDP camps. Even during the 2005 presidential election, the Elections Commissioner set up polling booths in areas in close proximity to uncontrolled areas to enable the people from the north to cast their votes.
The Elections Commissioner would take the necessary action this time around as well. As the government, we will extend our fullest support to the Elections Commissioner to carry out his task to enable all eligible voters in the north to cast their votes.
Q: What guarantees are there that there won’t be a repetition of what happened in 2005 when the northern Tamils were barred from voting?
A: The situation now is completely different than in 2005. Prabhakaran, who was against democracy, prevented the Tamil people in the north from casting their votes during the last presidential election. Now that Prabhakaran and the LTTE have been defeated, the situation is different. The government can guarantee that the Tamils in the north will receive their chance to cast their votes without any fear.
Q: Now that the war is over, how does the governing party plan to address the ethnic issue?
A: The 13th Amendment is what the government has now. However, it has not been implemented in full. Even President J.R. Jayewardene who introduced the amendment could not implement it. After liberating the east, the government held provincial council elections according to the 13th Amendment. Before speaking on whether we should go beyond the 13th Amendment or reduce, it has to be decided after implementing the 13th Amendment. That is what we are doing now. We are planning on holding provincial council elections in the north next year. It is a gradual process. As for the APRC proposals, the President has clearly said that the next course of action would be taken after elections.
Q: What vision does the UPFA led by President Rajapaksa have for Sri Lanka?
A: President Mahinda Rajapaksa released his policy framework titled the Mahinda Chinthana during the last presidential election campaign. The policies were implemented after he assumed office. The second phase of the Mahinda Chinthana framework will be implemented after January 26. The President’s election manifesto is currently being prepared. However, under the second phase of the Mahinda Chinthana, we will look at economic development. Emphasis will be laid on strengthening the local economy, addressing the 6% unemployment rate, developing the agriculture sector and rural infrastructure development. There is a need to strengthen the economy after the war. Many countries that have faced similar situations have looked at developing their economies as one of the key priorities. We will also look at building a moral society because many have overlooked that aspect.